RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazilian beef exports have risen steadily this year, in part due to the weaker real and producers hope international trade accords will help them win new markets, notably in Asia.

“Between January and September, exports surged 19.4 per cent over the same period last year,” according to the Association of Brazilian Beef Exporters (ABIEC).

With nearly 200 million head of cattle, Brazil is the world’s leading beef exporter and this year sales abroad have totaled 1.08 million tons valued at $4.8 billion, ABIEC said in a statement.

“This year’s surge is due in part to the weak real (national currency),” ABIEC executive director Fernando Sampaio said Friday, adding that the country has other competitive advantages and can meet growing demand, notably in Asia.

Today, Latin America’s biggest economy accounts for nearly 20 per cent of world beef exports, with Hong Kong, Russia and the European Union as its main clients. “This trend of rising Brazilian exports should last at least one year,” according to Fernando Iglesias, an analyst with the agri business consulting firm Safras e Mercado.

“With rising demand from exporters, Brazilian beef has reached very high quality levels and there is no indication that countries will close their borders,” he said. But some countries have raised sanitary issues.

Last December, six countries suspended their imports of Brazilian beef over a two-year-old case of mad cow disease.

Scientists believe the disease was caused by using infected parts of cattle to make feed for other cattle.

Brazilian officials insisted the Parana case poses no risk to public health or to animal hygiene. And this has since been confirmed by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

Moscow has eased its restrictions, allowing six Brazilian slaughterhouses to resume shipments to Russia on October 11.

But Brasilia plans to turn to the World Trade Organization’s sanitary committee next week to demand a lifting of the suspension by China, Japan and South Africa.

These three markets represent only 1.5 per cent of total Brazilian exports, “but this is a matter of principle and image,” according to Sampaio.

By using halal slaughgter rites, Brazil also exports to several Muslim countries such as Egypt, Iran and Algeria.

“We are today targeting Indonesia,” a Muslim country with 245 million people, said the ABIEC executive.

But he noted that Indonesian law bans any import from countries affected by foot-and-mouth disease, which still exists in some Brazilian regions.